Day Two Reflections of New York’s iZone

April 23rd, 2014

Category: Student-Centered Learning

Recently, the Rodel Teacher Council members visited several schools in New York City that are exemplars for personalized learning. Michelle Morton, a literacy interventionist at McKean High School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, contributed this guest blog post about her experiences on the site visit. Another Teacher Council member, Tricia Dallas, also blogged about her experience.

The next morning’s bus ride was short, but the crowded streets and the plethora of potholes made sure we all felt pretty sick by the time we got to MS 442. The building was not as grandiose outside as Bronx Compass, but inside student work filled the walls showing a real explicit tie to Common Core and some high rigor. Deanna Sinito, principal, met us in the science lab and told us about their fully inclusive program, including the NEST program (specifically created for students on the autism spectrum). Her team of lead teachers spoke to us about the inquiry based work they did at the school and the project based learning to create engagement. The team was well spoken and clearly loved their school. They use mastery based grading on a program called “jump rope” which allows teachers to choose the “I can” statements they have broken the Common Core into. They call these learning targets or student outcomes, and students can reach these asynchronously. They spend much of their PD time creating rubrics to help guide their mastery grading. They also use the SAMR scale to gauge the intensity of the use of technology. It is clear that the school values teacher’s expertise and gives time for planning and limits class size. The other take away from the iZone, was the idea that they could prototype things quickly and decide if they are worth “piloting” instead of sacrificing many student guinea pigs to the cause. They also had a real focus on students with monthly assemblies for PBIS. We left the school feeling energized, but ready for lunch.

Next, we traveled to the School of the Future. After signing in to the building, we met with Stacy at her office. School of the Future principal Stacey Goldstein told us about the school which was established 21 years ago. There are about 100 students per class and the school houses 6-12th grade. They follow an ”Apprenticeship Model” where teachers are putting information in context to how information is used in real life. They also follow a workshop model of gradual release of control. The kids have personalized education opportunities in the way they use their notebooks and how they get ready for the “Exhibitions” necessary for school graduation. We were able to see five great classes in action. Students were engaged and the lessons were great. Teachers were well-planned and engaging. There was clear rigor evident and the teacher’s objectives and lessons were tightly intertwined. There was nothing truly innovative about this school. It was just a great, small school, with strong teachers using best practices.

After our departure from the School of the Future, we re-boarded the bus. It was a quiet and introspective bus ride home. To me, the biggest take-aways were: 1. Students were responsible for their own learning in a way that they are not in Delaware, because DCAS is not necessary for graduation. 2. The schools were able to “personalize” their approaches to students because they KNEW every kid. The smaller size made that possible. 3. The students were celebrated and empowered. 4 The budgets are controlled by the schools which allowed them to not be over saturated with administration, and instead were focused on creating lower teacher/student ratios. 5. Teachers had a LOT of planning time to create these tight lessons and projects tied to Standards.

Rodel Foundation of Delaware



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